Publication details [#10768]

Torreano, Lisa Anna, Cristina Cacciari and Sam Glucksberg. 2005. When dogs can fly: Level of abstraction as a cue to metaphorical use of verbs. Metaphor and Symbol 20 (4) : 259–274. 16 pp.


How do people recognize metaphors? In nominal metaphors, such as "My lawyer is a shark," the metaphor vehicle "shark" refers to an abstract category of predatory creatures, not to the basic-level concept, the literal fish we call "shark." People can use the level of abstraction of the metaphor vehicle (shark) as a cue that the expression is intended metaphorically rather than literally (Glucksberg & Keysar, 1990). Can the metaphorical use of verbs, as in "he hopped on his bike and flew home" be recognized in the same way? We investigated whether the level of abstraction of a verb's referent provides a cue that the verb is used metaphorically rather than literally. We varied level of abstraction of verb use, and obtained judgments of metaphoricity as a function of abstraction level. As with nouns, verbs that are understood at a higher level of abstraction are rated as more metaphorical than when the same verbs could be interpreted at the basic (literal) level. Furthermore, this effect is graded: the higher the level of abstraction, the higher the rated metaphoricity. These findings suggest that people use level of abstraction as a cue to metaphoricity for both nominal and predicative metaphors. (Lisa Torreano, Cristina Cacciari, Sam Glucksberg)